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Belle Époque Glamor Coming Back To Harrods — In Buenos Aires

Architects plan to restore one of the Argentine capital's architectural gems, but with new co-working and co-living spaces that reflect the latest trends.

Harrods in Buenos Aires
Harrods in Buenos Aires
Karina Niebla

BUENOS AIRES Entering Harrods — the luxury store in Buenos Aires, not London — one feels as one might have felt boarding the Titanic. The comparison is not far-fetched: both were built with British capital, and before World War I. And just like the Titanic, the Buenos Aires store also displays the plush splendor of the Belle Époque, still alive today: with ample spaces, a carousel on the second floor, countless lamps, typewriters and chairs, and the use of materials like cast iron, marble, bronze and oak that are meant to last.

The Buenos Aires Harrods, closed for over two decades, is no longer just a memory. It is set for a full restoration and a revival as a department store, but with a contemporary touch. The new space is to include gourmet eateries, apartments and offices with public terraces. The traditional barber shop, which remains one of the building's best-preserved sections, will be opened up again. The restoration project, which is being reviewed by the city government and waiting for approval, would last over three years and cost $60 million. The building is also up for sale.

Harrods opened here in 1914 occupying an entire block in the city center, the only foreign branch of the London department store founded in 1849. After decades of splendor and some decadence, it closed in 1998. Several revival plans over the years failed to prosper.

Today there is renewed movement inside: cleaning, plumbing and initial repairs to "certain elements of great architectural value," says chief restorer Ángel Piccolo. These are necessary maintenance measures for a building that is more than a century old, with seven floors, a basement and a total surface of 48,000 square meters.

The Buenos Aires store also displays the plush splendor of the Belle Époque.

Thousands of miles away in New York, a U.S. fund is negotiating the building's purchase through the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Sources close to the store's historic owners say a deal is imminent. A restoration project has been presented to the city government, consisting of a mixed-use plan that follows the city's new Urban Development Code. It is to be carried out by architect Rodolfo Miani of Bodas-Miani-Anger Architects, in partnership with Norman Foster.

According to the plans, the premises will contain the department store, as well as boutiques and a food market on the lower floors. On the upper floors there are plans for facilities like co-working but also co-living spaces and terrace gardens, which will be open to the public. A traditional barber shop and beauty salon in the basement have been perfectly preserved and will resume activity.

A good deal of the exterior was restored in 2015, under Piccolo's supervision. Unfortunately, thieves have since tried to steal bronze sculptures from the building front and windows have been broken. The exterior is now protected by a metal screen and a security agent.

Several restoration projects were proposed soon after the store closed. In 2003, there were plans to install 80 luxury brand outlets inside the building, with a café and a bookstore. In 2011, the Financial Times reported the store would reopen if a UK investment fund were to close a $280-million deal. And in 2012, there was an idea to create a shopping mall dedicated to the LGBTI community.

None of these projects prospered, in part because of the ups and downs of the Argentine economy. Paradoxically, the peso's latest devaluation has made the building an attractive investment option, and may contribute to a definitive recovery of this architectural emblem in Buenos Aires.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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